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Xing, Guang (2002) The evolution of the concept of the Buddha from early Buddhism to the formulation of the Trikaaya theory. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00028569

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Abstract

Of the three bodies of the Buddha, the sambhogakaya was the last to have been formulated (circa, the third to fourth century CE) To date, scholars have not established any substantiated theory with regard to its origins. It is with this aim that I began my research on the subject. In earliest Buddhist literature, the concept of the Buddha reveals two aspects: a human identity and a superhuman character. The rationalist Sarvastivadins developed their belief in the human Buddha while the Mahasarnghikas relied more on pure faith and developed their concept of the transcendental Buddha endowed with superhuman qualities. It is on this basis that the two-body theory of the Buddha was formulated. Most probably the originator belongs to the Sarvastivada school and flourished before the composition of the Mahdprajndparamita-sastra. From the fourth chapter onwards, I have traced the origins and developments of each of the three bodies. The concept of the dharmakaya, derived from the Buddha's teachings collected in the corpus of early Buddhist literature, was further developed as a collection of pure dharmas by the Sarvastivadins. It finally evolved into the cosmic body, an impersonal principle supporting all phenomena through its identification with the tathata which pervades the whole universe in Mahayana Buddhism. It is on this basis that the Mahayanists identified the dharmakaya with other key concepts such as the Buddhadhatu and the Tathdgatagarbha. The sambhogakaya theory arose as a result of the debate on the rupakaya of the Buddha. Initially, the Sarvastivadins and the Mahasamghikas debated on the transcendental qualities of the Buddha. This later led to the problem of the short lifespan of Sakyamuni when Mahayanists increasingly emphasized the great merit of the Buddha gained through bodhisattva practice. The formulation of the sambhogakaya was arguably a solution to this complex problem, basing itself as precedent on the teachings of the early and middle Mahayana sutras. The nirmanakaya doctrine originated from the early Buddhist theory of the mind-made body produced through the supernatural power of rddhi. It had probably first been conceived by the Mahasarnghikas when they idealised the Buddha as transcendental. The Mahayanists accepted this concept in its entirety and further developed it into that of the nirmanakaya. Many scholars think that the development of the concept of the Buddha is mainly driven by faith in Gautama, but our study of the subject shows that philosophical thought also plays a very important role.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00028569
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 14:59
URI: https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/28569

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